GENDER DIFFERENCES IN COMMUNICATION
Certainly, gender differences exist:
“Men are direct. Women are emotional….”
“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.”
You’ve probably heard the comments and perhaps you’ve witnessed differences between how men and women talk.
Recently a few people asked me about the differences between how men and women communicate. Like you, I’ve also heard the stereotypes.
Let’s see what the research says!
Here’s a list of 6 ways that men and women may differ in their communication, along with my summary of what the research says:
- How much we talk
- Our communication goals
- Our voices
- Our listening skills
- Our non-verbal communication
- Our confidence (and imposter syndrome)
As you’re reading this, keep in mind that sex is biological and gender is learned. In other words, while there are innate, physiological differences that may explain some differences between the sexes, socialization and learned behaviors also account for significant differences…
1. GENDER DIFFERENCES IN HOW MUCH WE TALK
- There is a common and incorrect perception that women and girls talk more, be it in the classroom or in business.
- Recently the head of the Tokyo Olympics lost his job when he pontificated his apprehension of adding female board members, stating that, “…if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”
- A comprehensive analysis of research focused on gender differences and communication volume concludes that if anything, the opposite might be true!
That said, your female physician may spend more time with you than a male physician. Research shows that female doctors spend an average of 2 minutes longer talking to their patients.
2.GENDER DIFFERENCES IN OUR COMMUNICATION GOALS
- The research on this one is pretty definitive. Even starting at a young age, multiple sources demonstrate that men use language to command dominance, power, and to achieve tangible outcomes, while women use communication as a tool to enhance social connections and create relationships.
- In a 2009 study of over 400 participants, researchers concluded significant differences in how men and women perceive the benefit of work relationships. Men focus on relationships at work as a means to get the job done. Women value relationships at work in terms of social and emotional support. For women, work friendships are a key driver of job satisfaction.
In other words:
- men tend to be task-oriented while women are relationship-oriented.
- men may engage in “report talk” while women gravitate to “rapport talk”
- men are “friendly” while women are “friends.” (Thanks to my friend Mary for this one!)
3. OUR VOICES
- Our voices vary across several vocal elements including rate, volume, articulation, pronunciation, fluency, and pitch. Understanding and incorporating variety in (most of) these elements creates a more engaging voice. In other words, if we speak fast and slow, with a high and low pitch, loudly and softly, our communication tends to be more engaging. This goes for both men and women.
- The pitch of men’s voices is typically almost one octave deeper than women’s due to their relative testosterone level, the hormone that elongates the vocal cords during puberty.
- Plenty of research highlights the benefits of men’s deep voices:
- Not surprisingly, women find men with deeper voices more attractive than those with higher-pitched voices
- According to one academic study, male CEOs with deeper voices are more successful than their higher-pitched peers across several measures: they tend to manage larger companies, make $187,000 a year more, and last in their jobs an average five months longer.
- A 2015 study concluded that the U.S. Presidential candidate with the deeper voice won in every election since Calvin Coolidge.
to deepen her voice prior to an election – which she then won.
4. LISTENING SKILLS
- The biological, anatomical composition of men’s and women’s ears is identical.
- However, research indicates that men and women may listen differently. In one fMRI study, researchers found that when listening, women tend to use both sides of the brain while men rely more heavily on the left brain hemisphere. (Language is processed primarily in the left hemisphere, and emotions are processed primarily in the right hemisphere.)
These results indicate that women may be able to connect words (language) to feelings or emotions more readily than men.
5. GENDER DIFFERENCES IN NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
- Men and women ACT differently! Research shows significant differences between men’s and women’s non-verbal communication. Generally, men display more power and status-oriented body language, while women display more “warm” body language.
- Various research studies show that men’s non-verbal communication:
- Women may:
6. GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CONFIDENCE & THE IMPOSTER SYNDROME
- In 1978, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes introduced the term “imposter phenomenon” based on their research focused on high-achieving women. Ever since then, people have been diagnosing “imposter syndrome” (doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud) in themselves and particularly in women.
- Recently though, the “imposter syndrome” discourse has shifted in at least three ways:
- It turns out that EVERYONE suffers from imposter syndrome!
- We should focus less on improving women’s confidence, and more on changing toxic work environments.
- “Confidence doesn’t equal competence.” Overconfidence (arrogance) is inversely correlated with leadership success. Humility can be a strength.
SO WHO’s THE BETTER COMMUNICATOR?
Oh no. There’s no right answer to that question.
Two things we should ALL focus on, based on this research:
- our self-awareness
- our confidence
What’s your key take-away from all this? I’d love to hear! You can email me anytime.
Please forward this email to anyone who might appreciate some advice on gender differences in communication styles. Thank you!
Have a great week.
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
Chief Talker & Communication Coach
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